If you ever got the opportunity to learn what your purpose is in this world, I suspect you would be terribly disappointed when you were told, unless you take a more expansive view of reality that the Bible can help you see.
A hilarious example of someone seeing their purpose apart from the Bible is in the following cold-open of an episode of Rick and Morty, where Rick makes a self-aware robot for the sole purpose of passing him butter:
“What is my purpose?”
“Pass the butter. Thank yoooou!”
. . .
“What is my purpose?”
“You pass butter.”
“Oh. My. God.”
“Yeah, welcome to the club, pal.”
And as funny as that snippet is, I think there is some truth to it that we can explore.
For example, if you wanted to know your purpose in this world – like THE THING that you were created to do – I bet it would be something like this:
“Your purpose in this world is to operate a not-very successful AirBNB that struggles to find paying customers.”
Well, not so fast. I bet by the end of this post I can convince you that being someone whose purpose is only to operate a not-very successful AirBNB that struggles to find paying customers is not as insignificant as it may seem.
But to explain how to grapple with this, we need to take a deep dive into the full spectrum of reality according to the Bible.
The Full Spectrum of Biblical Reality
The thing that many people in the Bible fail to realize is that it is not merely a story about things happening on Earth. Instead, it is a story about things happening “in Heaven” and on Earth. This is surprisingly more complicated than most people understand.
Everyone understands “the Earth,” right? It’s the place where things happen. You can go left, right, forwards and backwards, but I need to simplify that for our purposes. I need to simplify the two dimensions of forwards, backwards, left, and right into a simple one-dimensional diagram. This gives us a simple one-dimensional line.
But we can travel more places on Earth. you can go up and you can go down. And we need to add this to our diagram.
In order to do this, we need to add another dimension onto our simplified diagram. This turns a simple number line into an X Y graph. As such, we have every direction you can move in ordinary life depicted by the following simplified diagram:
However, as the Bible makes clear, this is NOT the complete explanation of what exists on Earth, because the Bible talks about a spiritual realm with invisible things operating parallel to the physical world. This is the “spiritual” world. This “spiritual world” is described in the following passages and elsewhere in the Bible:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:3-4)
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:10-12)
But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:38-49)
And this “spiritual” world is not a metaphor. This spiritual world is extremely real. And its reality is not something that is exclusive to Christians, and the Bible makes this clear.
The best example of this is when King Saul wishes to speak to someone who is dead, the prophet Samuel, so he goes to see a medium or “necromancer,” which is someone who practices necromancy, or “speaking with the dead. This practice is outlawed by the law of Moses, and Saul as king had threatened death to anyone who practiced it. However, he wished to speak with Samuel, who was dead, and so he disguised himself and paid the necromancer to practice her art. But look what happens:
Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.” The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage. (1 Samuel 28:11-14)
The thing to notice in this episode is that the woman gets a glimpse of the “spiritual” world, and this gives her the ability to see and understand things in THIS world. As such, the “spiritual” world is not some imaginary place. It is a very real thing that allows one to look at this world from a different perspective, letting you see things in a new way, giving you information that you would not normally have.
And there is a mathematical concept that can help us depict this in our simplified diagram, except it is probably more advanced than the typical high-school math that we all remember. Here is a helpful video that can help you get the right idea:
This is also helpful because these lateral numbers are – just like the “spiritual” world – often deemed to be “imaginary.” Funny how that works, isn’t it?
Where is the “spiritual world” located? It’s in the same place where your thoughts and memories are located. It is where your anxiety and happiness is located. It is where your love and hatred is located. It is both inside you and all around you all at the same time. It is never seen, but always felt. It is “spiritual.”
And in our diagram, all things “spiritual” are on the Z axis in our diagram:
And THAT is a simplified diagram of how the Bible describes this world, and you don’t even need to be a religious nut (like me) to understand and agree with this depiction of reality:
- The neurologist would operate on the XY plane. The psychologist operates on the Z axis.
- The physical therapist would operate on the XY plane. The therapist works on the Z axis.
- Guns and bombs attack on the XY plane. Psy-Ops and propaganda attack from the Z axis.
- Markets and economies act on the XY plane. Morality and religion spread to the Z axis.
- Matter and energy exist on the XY plane. Wisdom and truth exist on the Z axis.
But for all of you Christians out there, this should explain why the “fruit of the spirit” only involves things that are not physical:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Likewise, the “spiritual gifts” are not plots of land, pieces of technology, or wealth and currency. They are things like wisdom, discernment, the ability to understand, and the ability to interpret. They are things that do not exist in the “physical” world, but certainly exist in the world we feel and experience. That is what “spiritual” is.
But now let’s get back to the point of this post: one’s purpose in life.
The One Example in the Bible of Someone Being Told His Purpose in Life
Earlier I stated that you probably would not want to know what your purpose IN THIS WORLD is, and I would like to prove it from scripture. Believe it or not, there is one person who was quite plainly told what his purpose was in life. His name was Jeremiah.
Here is what God says about Jeremiah’s purpose in the beginning of the book of his prophesy:
The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month.
Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord.”
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me,
“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
As such, we see that Jeremiah has a purpose that the Lord God quite plainly describes:
“Your purpose is saying whatever I tell you to say and not to be afraid because I will deliver you.”
This actually sounds like a pretty good deal. However, when you read the book of Jeremiah, you will see that in ordinary terms, it is not as good of a deal as it first appears. This is clearly shown in the progression of the book. For example, in Jeremiah 16, the Lord God tells Jeremiah that “saying whatever I tell you to say” does not involve finding love:
The word of the Lord came to me: You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place. (Jeremiah 16:1-2)
Oh….. Kay. But at least he knows his purpose. He is to say whatever the Lord tells him to say. And for the first 19 chapters of the book of Jeremiah, we see Jeremiah doing just that.
This is when Jeremiah discovers that saying what the Lord tells you to say is not as glamorous as it first appears. The bad news for Jeremiah starts off quite quickly.
Now Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. Then Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the Lord. (Jeremiah 20:1-2)
And then it happens again, with Jeremiah making a narrow escape:
The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the Lord. And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.
When the officials of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the Lord and took their seat in the entry of the New Gate of the house of the Lord. Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.” . . . But the hand of Ahikam the son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah so that he was not given over to the people to be put to death. (Jeremiah 26:7-11, 24)
This is also probably when Jeremiah first discovered that when the Lord says “I will deliver you,” it only means that Jeremiah will not die.
As the story of the book confirms, Jeremiah does not die. But you’ll be surprised what you can live through when serving the Lord.
We also learn that when the Lord tells Jeremiah to “say” things, this also means that he will be required to demonstratively “say” things that are pretty uncomfortable to demonstratively say:
In the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord. Thus the Lord said to me: “Make yourself straps and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck. (Jeremiah 27:1-2)
And we learn in the next chapter that Jeremiah wears this yoke around his neck for FIVE MONTHS.
But it doesn’t stop there. The bad news continues.
Thereafter, in 605 BC, the life-work of Jeremiah would be burned up by a king who doesn’t care one bit about what Jeremiah is preaching:
In the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today. It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.”
Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote on a scroll at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the Lord that he had spoken to him. And Jeremiah ordered Baruch, saying, “I am banned from going to the house of the Lord, so you are to go, and on a day of fasting in the hearing of all the people in the Lord’s house you shall read the words of the Lord from the scroll that you have written at my dictation. You shall read them also in the hearing of all the men of Judah who come out of their cities. . . . So Baruch the son of Neriah took the scroll in his hand and came to them. And they said to him, “Sit down and read it.” So Baruch read it to them . . . So they went into the court to the king, having put the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the secretary, and they reported all the words to the king. Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the secretary. And Jehudi read it to the king and all the officials who stood beside the king. It was the ninth month, and the king was sitting in the winter house, and there was a fire burning in the fire pot before him. As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. (Jeremiah 36:1-6, 14-15, 20-25)
And just so you know, this event has a big effect on Biblical textual history. There are more textual variants of the book of Jeremiah than any other Old Testament book, because – as we see in this passage – the main body of his work was destroyed by the king.
Buuuut, that’s not all. In Because things continue to get worse for Jeremiah, where he is beaten and imprisoned under completely false charges:
Now when the Chaldean army had withdrawn from Jerusalem at the approach of Pharaoh’s army, Jeremiah set out from Jerusalem to go to the land of Benjamin to receive his portion there among the people. When he was at the Benjamin Gate, a sentry there named Irijah the son of Shelemiah, son of Hananiah, seized Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “You are deserting to the Chaldeans.” And Jeremiah said, “It is a lie; I am not deserting to the Chaldeans.” But Irijah would not listen to him, and seized Jeremiah and brought him to the officials. And the officials were enraged at Jeremiah, and they beat him and imprisoned him in the house of Jonathan the secretary, for it had been made a prison. (Jeremiah 37:11-15)
Fortunately for Jeremiah, this prison doesn’t last very long, because he begs to get out of this prison, and he is let out:
Jeremiah also said to King Zedekiah, “What wrong have I done to you or your servants or this people, that you have put me in prison? Where are your prophets who prophesied to you, saying, ‘The king of Babylon will not come against you and against this land’? Now hear, please, O my lord the king: let my humble plea come before you and do not send me back to the house of Jonathan the secretary, lest I die there.” So King Zedekiah gave orders, and they committed Jeremiah to the court of the guard. (Jeremiah 37:18-21)
Unfortunately for Jeremiah, this good luck does not last very long, as circumstances catch up to him:
And a loaf of bread was given him daily from the bakers’ street, until all the bread of the city was gone. So Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard. (Jeremiah 37:21)
Fortunately for Jeremiah, while fulfilling his purpose of speaking what the Lord commanded him, people actually listened to him:
Now Shephatiah the son of Mattan, Gedaliah the son of Pashhur, Jucal the son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur the son of Malchiah heard the words that Jeremiah was saying to all the people: “Thus says the Lord: He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out to the Chaldeans shall live. He shall have his life as a prize of war, and live. Thus says the Lord: This city shall surely be given into the hand of the army of the king of Babylon and be taken.” (Jeremiah 38:1-3)
Unfortunately for Jeremiah, the people who heard it hated what he had to say:
Then the officials said to the king, “Let this man be put to death, for he is weakening the hands of the soldiers who are left in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.” King Zedekiah said, “Behold, he is in your hands, for the king can do nothing against you.” So they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. And there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud. (Jeremiah 38:4-6)
The good news is that Jeremiah is let out of the cistern, and he is given one more chance to speak to the king on behalf of the Lord:
Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: If you will surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life shall be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live. But if you do not surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand.” (Jeremiah 38:17-18)
The bad news is that the king does not listen to Jeremiah and threatens him with death if he doesn’t shut his mouth:
Then Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, “Let no one know of these words, and you shall not die. If the officials hear that I have spoken with you and come to you and say to you, ‘Tell us what you said to the king and what the king said to you; hide nothing from us and we will not put you to death,’ then you shall say to them, ‘I made a humble plea to the king that he would not send me back to the house of Jonathan to die there.’” Then all the officials came to Jeremiah and asked him, and he answered them as the king had instructed him. So they stopped speaking with him, for the conversation had not been overheard. And Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard until the day that Jerusalem was taken. (Jeremiah 38:24-28)
And so it seems that Jeremiah is in big trouble, because Jerusalem is about to be taken, and it seems that Jeremiah – along with all of the other hold-outs in the city of Jerusalem – are in big trouble. And in fact, Jeremiah is in trouble, eventually, he gets led out of Jerusalem in chains.
But remember? The Lord told Jeremiah back in Chapter 1, in an appearance that happened in 627 BC, that the Lord would deliver Jeremiah, and so he shouldn’t be afraid, and in 586 BC, the Lord God keeps his promise. A random Babylonian commander noticed that the God whom Jeremiah served proclaimed that Jerusalem would be taken by the Babylonians, and so he allows Jeremiah to go where he wishes to go:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord after Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had let him go from Ramah, when he took him bound in chains along with all the captives of Jerusalem and Judah who were being exiled to Babylon. The captain of the guard took Jeremiah and said to him, “The Lord your God pronounced this disaster against this place. The Lord has brought it about, and has done as he said. Because you sinned against the Lord and did not obey his voice, this thing has come upon you. Now, behold, I release you today from the chains on your hands. If it seems good to you to come with me to Babylon, come, and I will look after you well, but if it seems wrong to you to come with me to Babylon, do not come. See, the whole land is before you; go wherever you think it good and right to go. If you remain, then return to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon appointed governor of the cities of Judah, and dwell with him among the people. Or go wherever you think it right to go.” So the captain of the guard gave him an allowance of food and a present, and let him go. Then Jeremiah went to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, at Mizpah, and lived with him among the people who were left in the land. (Jeremiah 40:1-6)
The good news is that Jeremiah stays in Judah with those who are left behind by the Babylonians in the house of Gedaliah, who was the Babylonian governor appointed to rule Judah.
The bad news is that the Babylonian governor is murdered and Jeremiah is kidnapped and taken to Egypt. And that’s the last thing we read about Jeremiah.
And strangely, that story is one in which Jeremiah is described as one who is powerful and is placed as a ruler over nations. Remember what the Lord says about him:
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me,
“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
Really? THAT GUY who spent his entire life getting beat up and thrown in prison and ended his unfortunate life by being kidnapped and taken to Egypt was “over nations and over kingdoms”?
Yes. Really. But to understand it, you need to understand the spiritual realm.
The Great Cloud of Witnesses
This is where we must remember the importance of the spiritual realm. There is chapter in the book of Hebrews where men are commended, not because of things that happen in the physical world, that X & Y plane that we diagramed before.
Instead, they are commended on their faith, which primarily rests on the Z axis. In describing men who suffered like Jeremiah, the author of Hebrews says the following:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
. . .
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
And immediately after this long description of people who died having faith, there is the following curious line:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
And so now I want to ask a few very pointed questions:
- Where is this city?
- Where are these witnesses?
- Where is Jesus seated at the right hand of the throne of God?
The answer to the first two questions can be shown using the following diagram that uses the XYZ axes:
That is where the witnesses are. That is where the city is. They are in the very-real, but not physical “spiritual” realm.
But where is Jesus seated at the right hand of God? Where is God located in all of this? Well, we can still use our diagram, but we need yet another dimension, because that location is a bit stranger. We get hints of its location when we read the following passages from the Old Testament:
“Is not God high in the heavens?
See the highest stars, how lofty they are!
But you say, ‘What does God know?
Can he judge through the deep darkness?
Thick clouds veil him, so that he does not see,
and he walks on the vault of heaven.’
“From where, then, does wisdom come?
And where is the place of understanding?
It is hidden from the eyes of all living
and concealed from the birds of the air.
Abaddon and Death say,
‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.’
“God understands the way to it,
and he knows its place.
For he looks to the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
When he gave to the wind its weight
and apportioned the waters by measure,
when he made a decree for the rain
and a way for the lightning of the thunder,
then he saw it and declared it;
he established it, and searched it out.
And he said to man,
‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
and to turn away from evil is understanding.’”
“But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built! (2 Chronicles 6:18)
“You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. (Nehemiah 9:6)
And we also read about this location in the New Testament in the following passages:
I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. (2 Corinthians 12:1-4)
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. (Hebrews 7:26)
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. (Hebrews 8:1-2)
And so if you want to know where the man Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of God in our simplified diagram, here is the answer:
The point is not that I am God or anything. Instead, the point is that God is ABOVE all things. He has control over all things. He can touch us (just as I can draw with Microsoft Paint), but we cannot touch him, because he is in heaven. He is an order of magnitude removed from us, and I cannot depict this reality using the same Microsoft Paint diagram. It has to be something completely different, because that’s what the Bible describes.
But this is also why we do not need to fear when we go about fulfilling our “purpose” in this physical world, no matter how perilous it may seem. There is more going on in reality than you could ever imagine in “this world.”
The Kingdom of Heaven Explained
And believe it or not, Jesus Christ often spoke of this larger expanse of reality when he preached on Earth. When the Bible needs to summarize the entire message of Jesus, it doesn’t say he came preaching to “Love your neightbor as yourself” or “Love one another as I have loved you,” even though he does say those things. Instead, the summary that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke give for the message of Jesus is the following:
Μετανοεῖτε ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν
And we often translate it as “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” But I want to concentrate on that first word, Μετανοεῖτε, which we translate as “Repent,” because it is PACKED with meaning.
The word is a combination of the Greek words μετά and νοέω which come together to form Μετανοεῖτε. Let’s explore what it means.
The Greek word νοέω means either “to think” or “to perceive.” And the Greek prefix Μετα- means more than just one thing. On the one hand, it could mean “again,” but on the other hand, it can also mean “with” or “beyond.” As such, it is a very difficult word to equate to English. The kids these days seem to use it as something that is self-referential, but traditionally, it is associated with things that are “transcendent.” And what I would like to tell you is that Jesus is using this somewhat ambiguous word with several possible meanings QUITE DELIBERATELY (because everything Jesus does is deliberate).
And the multi-dimensional nature of this word-choice is consistent with other things that he says, such as this famous line from John 3:
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [footnote: “Or from above; the Greek is purposely ambiguous and can mean both again and from above;] he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:4)
So let’s look at the full range of meaning of Μετανοεῖτε, which we can get by combining the multiple meanings of its underlying roots which would make sense in this situation:
- Think again
- Perceive again
- Think with
- Perceive with
- Think beyond
- Perceive beyond
- Think transcendently
- Perceive transcendently
In other words, yes, Jesus is telling his listeners to “think again” and “repent,” but he is also telling his listeners to “perceive beyond” and think along the Z axis we have been describing up until this point. He wants them to turn their minds to things above and perceive the truth that is beyond the physical world.
Not only that, but he is telling them to do this for a specific reason: “for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” And that is not a metaphor.
This is a plain description of the metaphysical reality of the coming of Jesus Christ, the God-Man. The invisible realm of God has intersected with the physical world in the person of Jesus Christ. And we can show it on our diagram:
In other words, the “kingdom of heaven” is not a metaphor, and Jesus is at the forefront of an advancing empire in dimensions beyond our perception. He says this quite plainly in other places in the Bible.
So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:33-37)
Do you remember how we described that Z axis before?
“Matter and energy exist on the XY plane. Wisdom and truth exist on the Z axis.”
Nothing that Jesus says here is a metaphor. He is speaking quite plainly, but most people, like Pilate, do not understand what he is saying.
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Jesus is speaking of a very real kingdom that is not of this world. It is kingdom of movement and order that overlaps with this and all realities. And because it is advancing, he has told us to “perceive beyond” to the parallel reality that is “with” this world, in this world, and beyond this world.
And in that parallel reality, Jesus Christ is Truth, and he is taking back the metaphysical space that was captured by Satan, the Father of Lies:
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:42-47)
And with that background, we can look back to the book of Hebrews that speaks of the cloud of witnesses, the city that is prepared for us, the highest heavens, and our high priest in heaven, it also speaks of this kingdom that is advancing by the power of Jesus Christ:
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:25-29)
And that is why we should Μετανοεῖτε, for the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near. It is with this understanding that we should return to the issue of knowing how to confront your seemingly stupid purpose in this world.
You Don’t Just Pass Butter, Even If You Pass Butter
And in light of this truth about the invisible and spiritual “Z axis,” it would be wrong to think that this should lead to abstract discussions of inaccessible and theoretical truths. Instead, I wish for you to know how important it is that the Z axis overlaps with the “real world” and makes seemingly unimportantly things in the “real world” unimaginably important in multiple dimensions.
According to what we read over and over again in scripture, seemingly random and unimportant things have unbelievable consequences in cosmic proportions. No, you may never get that raise or complete your degree or own that house or marry that person. You might just pass butter. But because of that Z axis, you might also be a beloved character among a cloud of invisible witnesses. Without knowledge of that Z axis, how could a butter robot understand that it fulfilled its meta-purpose so well that it even gets another appearance in a separate episode?
I hope the Z axis idea, the spiritual world, and this extended discussion about the broad spectrum of reality helps you when you encounter a disappointing purpose. As soon as your purpose interacts with a single human being, you are entering a dimension of reality that is far greater than the “real” world is able to contain.
It’s like C.S. Lewis said in the Weight of Glory:
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
So take pride in your purpose, no matter how silly it may seem.
Winning My Bet About Unsuccessful AirBNBs
And about a silly purpose, let’s go back to an example I gave earlier. Because I would like to win my bet about the disappointing purpose in this world:
“What is my purpose?”
“You operate a moderately successful air-BNB that struggles to find paying customers.”
Next, let’s read this story from the Bible:
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover. (Luke 22:7-13)
You should not miss how spooky this story is. Jesus instructs Peter and John to go into the city, and then a random man carrying a water jar will randomly be there. Rather than speak to this man, they are to follow him to the house. That subtle interaction is supposed to direct them to a particular house, which will signal to Peter and John that they should request from the master of that house (who they apparently have never met) to used a furnished upper room (that Jesus somehow knows if furnished) which is where they will have the last supper. This is the equivalent to finding a dinner reservation for two at a fancy restaurant for Valentines day on February 13th. It’s freaky.
But what you should also know is that every year in Jerusalem, the Passover was an entire week when the nation of Israel – both those in Judea and from around the world – would gather to celebrate the meal. The city grew in population to an enormous size, and everyone – including thousands from outside the city and nation – would be looking for a place to have this important religious feast. As such, the only reason there was a way for Jesus and his disciples to have the last supper is because there was a guy…
…operating the 1st century equivalent of a not-very-successful AirBNB that was struggling to find paying customers.
Yeah, welcome to the club, pal.